Friday, 1 September 2017

Captain Corelli‘s Egg-Slicer - Pedants of the world unite, Part the second

In last week‘s Review (one of the many pull-outs of The Times that almost ALWAYS goes astray on the way from the warehouse and it‘s not the shop‘s fault, honest, there‘s nothing we can do, it‘s the wholesaler) someone had taken the trouble to write in with a bit of misplaced pedantry that I used to be a believer in myself. (And if you're a fan of  "in which", read this – you're damned if you do invert and damned if you don't; I've chosen my route to damnation.)

In a letter to the Feedback column, a correspondent said he was writing ‘as a science student‘, but I suspect he meant ‘as a schoolboy who did GCSE Physics' or – depending on his age – O-level Physics, or even (as in my case) O-level Physics with Chem (that hasty genuflection at the altar of Mammon that, at one time, we Lotus Eaters were allowed to make on the way to a Greek class).

I first wrote about pedantry over four years ago here (well, I‘m sure I had written about it many times before,  but that early blog post was my first airing  for the PEDAI gag: "you have nothing  to lose but your PEDAI [=‘chains' {Greek – I wasn't kidding in my opening para]" – geddit? It‘s an etymological joke... Oh well}):
One of the grammar checker's shibboleths [BobK 2017: the object of my disdain at the time was grammar checkersparticularly Microsoft Word's: "a sort of Strunk & White incarnate"] is 'that in defining relative clauses' (and now the gloves are off – the underline is RED.)
<grammar_point importance="negligible" skip="yes, if you value your sanity" status="shibboleth">
Suppose I have two lawn mowers. The green one is in the shed and the red one ... is in the garage. Woe betide you if you refer to the green one as 'the mower which is in the shed'. However, you will have Mrs Thistlebottom*'s blessing if you say 'The red mower, which is newer, is in the garage.'

... I know the rule is hooey, but... 
And speaking of hooey, the other thing about using that in subordinate clauses is that it forces you to 'break' another 'rule', by relegating a phrasal verb's particle to the end. (I have mentioned this before, in the red excursus in the middle of this post).

And that is the point on which I shall end. 
*Mrs T is not my invention; I have mentioned her before. She haunted Dave Barry's Mister Language Person columns, which have gone the (sorely lamented) way of the songs of Tom Lehrer.
As I said, I was – until quite recently – a participant in this oft-repeated nitpick ("Quanta are really small, look at the ignoramus suggesting it's big"). But then I saw this explanation in a UsingEnglish forum:
According to quantum theory, electromagnetic radiation can only exist in certain values as opposed to being on a continuous scale. Passing from one value to another is taking a 'quantum leap'.

This has entered the language as a metaphor for abrupt or significant change in something rather than a gradual evolution.

Another response offered further clarification (together with a helpful link to more detailed stuff at Wikipedia):
The electron can't gradually change. It is either at one energy level or another. No inbetween.

As it moves from one level to another it emits or absorbs photons. The "color" (wavelength) of the photon depends upon the size of the leap.
So the  metaphor works perfectly: the nature of the electron changes suddenly and radically because of the quantum jiggery-pokery going on inside it, and as a result there's a significant change in the behaviour of the atom it haunts (I doubt if that's the right word... But what do electrons do? Whizz?).

Quantum Leap may well be, as the Times Style Guide says, a cliché (to be avoided like the plague [my silliness, not their word]). But it makes sense.

But the season of mists (chemical clouds?) and mellow fruitfulness is nearly upon us. The drive-by fruitings of the unreasonably prolific pear-tree are coming to an end, but things need doing to the apple-tree. I am going out, and may be some time...


PS: A couple of new clues:
  • Immerse lowest ranker reportedly in the shallows here. (7)
  • After play,  M. S. Dhoni gets a talking to. (8)

Update: 2017.10.20.10:55


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